While I’m on maternity leave with Baby Milo, a few dear friends have written pieces just for you all. I know you’ll enjoy them, and I hope you’ll find some new writers to follow and add to your community. Today’s post is by the amazing Cara Meredith.
I have a tendency to camp out on the surface.
First drafts are always notoriously that: first drafts. If I’m lucky, the words tumble out, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph. I take this as a sign – my sign, the sign – that I’ve gone as far as I can go, that I’ve dug tent stakes deep into the ground.
But then questions bubble up: What are you really trying to say here? What’s beneath the surface?
Sometimes the observation comes from me, an hour, a month, a year or two or five after the original draft. Sometimes the comment comes from a reader or an editor, from someone who’s trying to make sense of my words, who’s attempting to help me tell my truest and most authentic story.
Back in December, I handed over the first draft of my manuscript to a handful of friends: women and men, writers and pastors and educators, people of color and white people, too. Help me killing the darlings! Tell me when I need to dig in, even deeper! Nothing short of enthusiastic, I begged for their feedback. I reasoned there might be a bit of editing I’d have to do in order to make my deadline at the end of the January. It was nothing a couple of weeks couldn’t handle.
A couple of weeks later, I printed out a copy for myself and began reading through all 67,908 words. By the end of the first chapter, I didn’t need anyone else to tell me what my eyes clearly saw: I needed to dig in deeper.
Soon enough, the margins of the double-spaced document were filled with scribbles and notations of “More, more!” By the time a pile of manuscripts arrived in my mailbox, I felt prepared for their critique, ready to plumb the narrative depths.
Within a couple of days, my publisher granted me an extension, and I started rewriting two-thirds of the original manuscript – because, among other things, I’d barely scratched the surface.
My friend Alia, one of the beta readers, attributed it to the Enneagram.
“The problem is that you had two Fours as beta readers,” she said to me. A Four herself, she tended to “feel all the feels”; grappling with her thoughts and feelings wasn’t a big deal, the connection of heart to fingertips to page as natural for her as breathing. But for me, the heart-fingers-page connection seems to take a little more time. As a Seven, I can easily live on the surface: smiles and light-heartedness, complete with a sugarcoated dusting of optimism, ooze out of my pores. It’s not that depth isn’t there, that feelings and thoughts and opinions don’t exist in my body, but it just takes me a little longer to get there.
Sometimes it takes me a draft, or two, or thirty to really get to the heart of what I’m trying to say – to come to a full understanding of the stories already written on my soul.
“I feel like I’m on the 30th draft of this chapter!” I said to my agent over email one day, at the height of rewriting the manuscript.
Her reply came within seconds. “Go for 31.”
Maybe that’s what it is for all of us as writers: no matter our tendencies or our struggles, we still go for 31. When we find ourselves barely scratching the surface because we want to make others laugh and we want to see life through an effervescent pair of rose-colored glasses, we instead make the choice to go for 31. We fill in the blanks, digging in to the heart of the pain, on to the root of the story.
Eventually we get there, as we always do before it starts all over again.
Cara Meredith is a writer and speaker from Seattle, Washington. Her first book, The Color of Life: A White Woman’s Journey Toward Love and Justice, releases in January 2019 (Zondervan). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on her website.